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Leader comment: Voters matter

by
09 September 2022

LIZ TRUSS could be forgiven for trying to comply with the prescription laid down for her by pundits and supporters. It is irresistibly tempting to be the person who rescues the nation from the global challenges that one of her colleagues, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, called “five horses of apocalypse” on Tuesday. The energy-price freeze, signalled before the Church Times went to press, though not in any detail, should handicap the most powerful of the horses, and it shows how Ms Truss is susceptible, like her predecessor Harold Macmillan and all premiers, to “events, dear boy, events”. At the start of the Conservative leadership contest, she held out for principled, long-term measures, in particular the cutting of taxes to encourage economic growth. Just like an aid agency that has to reverse its plan to move towards sustainable development when an earthquake hits, so Ms Truss had to shift her stance as the summer progressed and the seismic nature of the energy crisis became apparent. From a disinclination to interfere, Ms Truss has moved, via a plan to help the most vulnerable, to a widespread freeze that should benefit businesses as well as households.

As this follows the Covid furlough scheme, we have seen two unprecedented state interventions by a Conservative government. The challenge that this poses is as much for the electorate as for Ms Truss and her new colleagues. It would be very easy to slip further into a dependent relationship in which the public expects to be spared the consequences of its own actions as well as others’. This is a retrograde step in democracy, and militates against change. To take climate change as just one example (not included in Sir Bernard’s string of horses): of course the immediate threat of cold homes must be addressed. But if the public is persuaded to back renewed oil and gas exploration, legally binding climate targets will be missed by miles, with consequences that we can still only vaguely imagine.

The electorate must grow in maturity and engagement, not retreat from the challenge, and this is absolutely the place where the Church must be most active. And there is Truss support for this — not Liz Truss, necessarily, but certainly her uncle, Canon Richard Truss, who wrote on the website anglicanism.org at the beginning of this year: “Theology is not some discrete activity for people of faith in our private lives. Rather it’s about God’s interaction with the creation in its entirety, and thus not restricted to some separated-off sacred sphere. In other words, politics and economics are too important to be left to politicians and economists, and theologians and Christians in general, however marginalised we may feel, are needed more than ever, to bring the fundamentals of truth and reconciliation to bear on the problems and threats we face nationally and globally.”

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